If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?

1 Corinthians 12: 17

Paul is discussing the various wonderful ways that followers of Christ are different from each other in the forms and the types of gifting that God has given to us. There is no question in my mind that this is what the Apostle is speaking about. Yet, it seems to me that there is more here. As I have been reading Richard Beck’s deep and profound book Stranger God[1],I have come to see this expanded view of the body of Christ a little more clearly. It does seem that God has given to us the gift of people. This is a really simple, yet very complicated subject. People are each different and highly distinctive, too. This differentiation exists in the form of our physical appearances, our personalities, our comfort in various situations, and in our capabilities and capacity to engage in each aspect of living within a community. Some may seem to be able to give more, and some are not as able to contribute, or at least that is how it might seem.

One of the challenges that I encounter is found in the way that my thinking has been conditioned over the course of my life. As I meet new people, I am almost immediately assessing them. While thinking that I am being open minded and accepting of the person as an individual, there are various internal filters and analytical tools at work, and these in-grained devices are busily placing this individual into broader categories that are ordered by preconceived definitions that lead me to draw value oriented conclusions regarding this person. None of this is happening at the level of volitional thought. Yet, it is all quite real and present inside of my mind so that this defining of a person has an effect upon my heart’s rendering of their worth as well. This is not at all how Christ sees people, and it has nothing to do with the way that our Lord contemplates the worth or the value of them, either.

In order to change something as long practiced and deeply held as is this form of thinking, I need to submit my perspective and view of people to Christ in repentance for the way that I have not loved His people well and with an expressed desire to be changed by the work of the Spirit within me. When Jesus met people, He was more interested in their story and in getting to know who they were than He was engaged with determining their role or their worth within the culture. So too should I care more about the life that people are living and the trials and troubles of that journey than I do about their skills or lack of them. Each of us is uniquely and beautifully formed by God to fulfill a role within His body of faith. There are no classes of citizenship in Christ’s community, for each and every person contributes to the whole as the Lord grants to them a place within His kingdom. I pray that as I go about my day that I will love and respect the people that I encounter in a manner that sees each of them as a whole and a contributing person who has a valuable and a vital place within God’s grand plan for His kingdom come to this world.    


[1]Richard Beck, “Stranger God, Meeting Jesus in Disguise” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press: 2017)

Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephesians 5:1

All that it takes to live well in God’s eyes, at least as they are understood by the Apostle Paul, is to think and act exactly as God would in the various situations and circumstance in which we find ourselves. This is not such an enormous task, is it? As anyone who has even the slightest desire to do this sort of thing can attest, living out godliness, that is, walking through life as a perfect image of Christ is not only challenging to do, but it is an impossibility. No one can do this, and no one other than Jesus has even come close. Thus, we go from the example of absolute perfection on the one hand in Christ to the flawed performance that all of the rest of us exhibit on the other hand. The contrast is stark, and the failure that we all know could be overwhelming if we were to let it be so. But that is not the way that God wants for things to be, and that is not the place that Christ leaves us, either.

Jesus went to the cross so that this flawed and failed reality would not continue to be the one that all of humanity inhabited. The blameless and perfect One paid a price that each and every one of us who has walked this earth or who will ever do so has earned the obligation to pay. However, God desired to close the enormous gap that sin had created between Himself and us, and that desire was so great that the Father gave the Son over as payment for that eternal debt. In like fashion and with complete accord, Jesus, the Son Himself, surrendered to the will of the Father and completed the arduous and painful journey that was set out for Him from the beginning of earth’s history. So, we are set free from overbearing guilt, shame, and the debt of sin. We are granted a new life in Christ, and we are led into being purposeful followers of Christ’s calling for each of our lives.

So, we will never be perfect followers of Christ, and no one will exist in a sinless state in this life. However, in Christ, we put on that new image of redemption that allows each of us to leave behind our old ways of viewing life and of interacting with people. Now our hearts are opened up to viewing all others as people to be loved and to be cared about and for. As Christ truly gave Himself up for me and for you, so too, we are called upon by Christ, and we are empowered by His Spirit to give up our fears, concerns, inhibitions, and prejudices so that we can see all of the people on this earth as God’s own dear ones that need love and understanding. Thus, there is no person who is too different, unclean, professing an unreachable view of God, hurtful beyond redemption, or who possesses or exhibits any barrier or impediment to being approached in love. We can all imitate Christ in reaching out in love to all others. This is the great possibility of faith in Christ. He has opened those doors for us, and His sacrifice has already bridged the great divide that Satan has attempted to create between people. All that we need to do is to trust in Christ enough to walk out onto the bridge that He has constructed for us to use. 

To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I might share with them in its blessings.

1 Corinthians 9: 22, 23

Most of us work hard for the status and the position that we enjoy in this life. The world does not tend to give out its honors easily or bestow rank and its privilege on people with some form of wildly uninhibited generosity; instead, we have to strive diligently and put out the effort and sacrifice much in order to achieve a higher place, and then the work continues in order to maintain it. Yet, Paul seems to be telling us that things are different in God’s kingdom. He is not suggesting that there is not hard work to be done or that people should not study, learn, develop skills, or even seek after advancement in our careers. Instead, Paul is saying that all of those earthly accomplishments and the position or status that may attach to them are of lesser importance when it comes to serving out God’s calling for us and when we are so brought into contact with people who need to know Christ. 

Paul was well educated and he held a position of rather great authority in the Jewish world where he lived. He also had an extraordinary story to tell when it came to his relationship with Jesus, for he had been selected by the Lord to encounter Him personally and in a highly intimate manner, and Paul had then received his theological retraining in a direct manner at the hands of Christ, Himself. Yet, Paul was able and willing to set all of that aside and to get down into the harsh chaos of this world with people if it meant that he could be in a place and a position where they would be able to hear the truth of the gospel of Christ. Paul did use his authority and training when those things granted him an audience and its attention, but he also engaged with people as nothing more than a sinful, fellow traveler in life’s journey who had been saved from that sin’s penalty by the grace of God and the blood of Christ.

When I consider what this means to me, I begin to think in terms of barriers and of the separation from people that rank, privilege, language, religious training, and bias bring about. The only status that matters when it comes to sharing the truth of Christ with others is that of being an unworthy sinner who has been granted an abundant life by Christ and through His efforts alone. Christ’s calling and commission for my life is simply that I would love others as much like He does as it is possible for me to do so. Then, He goes on to ask that I submit to Him even more fully by surrendering all of the barriers to that love that still exist in my heart and my mind. As Paul suggests to us, not all people will respond to the gospel by accepting Christ, but the response of others is not my concern. My Lord tells me that I am still to love all people regardless of whether they accept the gift of that love or not. My part in this process is to continue to seek the Lord’s wisdom in how to reach out to and engage with the people that life places in my path. I am to repent of any hardness of heart or fear that may be present within me so that Christ’s love is not inhibited from flowing out of me, and as a result of the Spirit’s work within me, I am to pour out Christ’s blessings upon all that I encounter.   

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Romans 12: 18

 

This statement is about as conditional as Paul ever gets, for he rarely leaves this much to our own discretion and understanding of the situation. Yet, here in this proverbial saying that is placed within a string of similar expressions, we are told to do something “If possible.” So, whose possibility is to make that determination? If it is mine, then there may be very few times when I am really going to live peaceably with people who rub me the wrong way, or hold views about issues that differ from mine, or come from a different cultural background than mine. The possibility for exception to that directive to live peaceably gets to be very long quite quickly, and the list of people with whom I am living in peace becomes short enough that I can readily handle it on my own.

 

Perhaps that is really the point. God’s desire for us in all aspects of life is that we would let go of control and surrender all of it to Him. So, in this very challenging area of relationships with other people, God is giving us the option of releasing our grip upon the rules for acceptance or rejection of others or of holding onto them so that we manage the way that we interact with the human elements of our world. To me, this places the idea of possibility into an entirely different light. It says that my relational boundaries and barriers can be either as narrow as my own definitions and comfort or they can be as expansive and inclusive as are God’s. This is the real choice that Paul is proposing to us, and it is one that he had entered into, himself, as a significant aspect of Paul’s coming to Christ involved the reordering of his view of God’s mission for him in relation to accepting or persecuting people who viewed their relationship with God differently than did Paul, the Pharisee.

 

It seems to me that entering fully into the possibilities in connecting with and caring about and for others is predicated upon surrender to Christ. The more of myself that I give over to my Lord in submission to His will, the more likely it is that I will see the lovable and the beautiful in people who would otherwise make me uncomfortable or worse. There is no one on this earth who Christ cannot love. There are no people for whom He did not die in order to redeem them from the death that belongs to all who are born into this world. So, there should be very few people who I am unable to care about and to love with a similar passion and redemptive desire. Now, I am not Christ, and all of this depends upon the response of others in order for me to be able to live peaceably with them, but, in so far as I am able to impact the outcome of the interaction, I can yield my attitudes, actions, and responses to Christ with my heart and mind set upon doing all that I can to enter into productive life together with all of the people that God grants me the gift of encountering during my days.

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.

1 Corinthians 16: 13, 14

 

Although it is really easy to get caught up in the contemplative aspects of connecting with God through prayer and meditation, it is important to take what we learn in this manner and to put feet onto it throughout our day. These words are filled with the action of a life lived in a close relationship with Christ. Faith is not something that we hold quietly inside. It is not a passive quality of our lives as Christians. It is the fuel of the words and the actions that are the substance of what we do and of how we are perceived each day. Faith in the God that we have come to know and who knows us deeply, who made us to fulfill the life purpose that we are faced with each day, this is the faith that provides the strength and that opens our hearts and our minds to the ways that the Lord will use us this day.

 

We are to continually look for and to be attuned to the needs of others, and we should seek out opportunities to speak and to act in the name of Christ. We are also to be alert for the satanic attacks that will go with a life lived for Him. It is important to prepare to stand up for what we believe. Sometimes this is in words; more often it is in the actions that we take and in the way that we treat others. This takes courage and strength. We may be required to do and to say things that the world around us will look at as irrational or just plain dumb. We still need to be ready to do it; for, we need to be ready to set aside the rational processes of considering our personal risk and be willing to let the Holy Spirit take charge of the moment. As the famous add campaign says, “Just Do It!”.

 

One final thing to consider, action can be very powerful and a bit addicting. We can get caught up in the adrenalin rush that comes from our desire to live fully for Christ; therefore, the final instruction here is that we should do everything with one, singular and overarching motive. Faith tells us that we can trust God’s love for us as his primary motive in relating to us. Perhaps the most courageous quality that we are called upon by God to employ in our daily living for Him is that of love. Faith gives us the strength that is needed to drop the sword that we naturally want to let lead our way through life and to open our hands and our arms in order to embrace the lost and the hurting people that Christ will place into our paths.

 

Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moths nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.

Matthew 6: 20

 

There are a number of places where I have things stored. My closet is rather full, the pantry is well stocked, and our garage contains way too much stuff. Storing away for that future need is something that I have worked on for most of my life. I am rather good at it, and trust me on this, there is a very good reason behind holding onto every one of the things that is filling my world. No, this is not hording; this is carefully anticipating the future. Alright, there is far more set aside than I will ever use. It is at that point where clutter has overcome utility and where value is lost to mass. Unfortunately, the sort of useless debris that clutters my house is too often symbolic of the nature of the worth of the images, thoughts, and ideas that I collect and store away in my heart and mind. It is also too much like the things that I hold as important and as worthy objects of energy and attention.

 

This world is filled with information. It is readily available and easily accessed. Some of it is very good to have. A lot of it is of no real use at all. Some of it is truly dangerous. There is also a very wide assortment of things that we can desire and seek to own. Some of it is necessary, some trivial, and some of these things can bring us harm. In all of the areas and ways that we gather and collect, the item of our interest is seldom the real problem. Most of the time we are challenged and struggle with the attitude that is behind the pursuit of it. When the majority of our time is spent on getting what we want and on becoming knowledgeable in how to get it, there is very little time or personal resource left for caring about and loving others. There is little of myself available to Christ for engaging in worship or for doing His will in this world.

 

God wants His people to spend our time with Him. He desires for us to worship Him. Seeking after God and gazing upon His face is the most worthy and valuable thing that we can do in this life. Seeking God in His Word leads us into the vast storehouse of truth, grace, and wisdom that fills every need that we could possible encounter. The sort of continual conversation that is life-prayer brings understanding and clarity to every situation and aspect that is encountered. As we talk, Christ speaks His absolutely loving righteousness into my frail and damaged heart. He brings courage to a place where only fear had been, and Christ leads me into actions that glorify Him. Our Lord grants us an understanding of His will that should cause us to enter into the lives of others and to value them and their souls as greatly as He does. Thus, here is that great treasure that God wants us to focus all of our energy upon. As we know God, so we come to know His will. As we know His will, we are led to sacrifice all of ourselves so that others will know Him.